Vedanta wins reprieve on Indian smelter shutdown

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Resources giant Vedanta won a reprieve Friday from India's Supreme Court which put on hold an order shutting down a massive copper smelter owned by the British company's Indian subsidiary.

The court's decision came after Sterlite Industries, 54 percent owned by Vedanta Resources, appealed an order to close the 400,000-tonne-a-year smelter in the southern Indian town of Tuticorin.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that the Tuticorin plant, one of the world's top 10 copper smelters, could remain open until at least October 18, when a new hearing would be held.

"We are happy the Supreme Court has granted a stay till October 18 when the matter will come up for a further hearing," Sterlite spokesman Pavan Kaushik said.

The Madras High Court earlier in the week told Sterlite to close its Tuticorin smelter, which lies in an ecologically fragile coastal area, to protect "mother nature" from "unabated air and water pollution".

The Madras court order marked the second major blow in two months for London-listed Vedanta, owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal, whose plan to be a major global metals player rests heavily on the company's Indian assets.

The ruling came after India's environment ministry in August rejected plans by Vedanta to mine bauxite to feed a nearby aluminium refinery on tribal land considered sacred and located in a remote area of the eastern state of Orissa.

The Madras court said the Sterlite smelter had polluted areas close to a bio-diverse national marine park and there were large amounts of heavy metals, arsenic and other toxic chemicals in the ground water.

Sterlite had argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that the Madras High Court had not given it a proper hearing and ignored its submissions. The case has been before the courts since 1996.

© 2010 AFP

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